note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
When tribal love-rock musical, “Hair,” opened in 1968, it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, when disillusioned youths formed tribes, threatened with being drafted in the Vietnam War. These hippies hung out in crash pads, tripping out on hallucinatory drugs like LSD, heroin, and marijuana. They stood on street corners, conducted sit-ins and be-ins, wearing fringe, headbands, bell-bottom pants, peasant skirts, crocheted and leather vests, handing out flowers, holding placards bearing peace symbols, and chanting anti-war protests, “Hell,no! We won’t go!” and “Make love, not war.”
“Where Do I Go?” they sing plaintively.
Several who didn’t burn their draft cards returned from Vietnam in body bags or mentally and physically damaged. They were mocked, disgraced, greeted with public disdain. Others committed suicide.
The era left a stain of infamy on a peace-loving America. Today, platoons of frightened youths face the same fate, without the threat of military draft.
American Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Diane Paulus, who directed the 2009 Tony Award-winning revival of “Hair,” and the national touring company appearing at the Colonial Theatre through April 10, has torn down all theatrical barriers and assembled an energetic, enthusiastic in-your-face ensemble that, besides raising the rafters and bringing down the house, pulsates and pounds out James Rado, the late Gerome Ragni and composer Galt MacDermot’s youthful despair, disillusionment, and devil-may-care abandonment.
For two hours and 35 minutes, the ensemble packs a relentless, energetic, interactive wallop that vibrates and rejuvenates feverishly.
The cast races down the aisles, jumps on the arms of people’s seats, shakes hands, hugs, kisses, strokes individual’s hair, giving love vibes.
Although the three principals are Steel Burkhardt as wild, untamed, school reject Berger; Boxford’s Caren Lyn Tackett as protest marcher-activist Sheila, and Paris Remillard as sensitive, conscience-ridden Claude, the entire cast delivers powerful performances.
Kacie Sheik as spacey, pregnant Jeannie, who got knocked up by a speed freak one night, is into astral projection and transcendental meditation. She loves Claude, who loves Sheila; but Sheila loves Berger, who is callous, flamboyant, and self-indulgent.
Remember, too, in the 1960s, society also tackled racism, civil action, segregation, homosexuality - remnants of which exist today, but are less volatile. Act II’s entertaining contrast of numbers “Black Boys” and “White Boys” was shocking 45 years ago, but not today.
Paulus de-emphasizes the threat of being drafted into the military with an understated draft-card burning ritual, but concentrates instead on the flower-power tribe’s hazy drug and free love fests, accented by the play’s profanity-laced lyrics and dialog and choreographer Karole Armitage’s sensually explicit orgies and love-ins. The night before Claude reports to the military induction center, he and the tribe undergo an extensive, mind-blowing hallucination in the second act.
Claude’s demise is silently, reverentially, alluded to --- a stunning reminder of innocents lost to a questionable war.
Accompanying the ensemble’s perpetual, uplifting, super-energized frenzy, Music Director David Truskinoff and company, seated on stage on two upper tiers, radiate loving vibes throughout, especially in hit numbers, “Aquarius,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and a rip-roaring finale of “Flesh Failures” and “Let the Sun Shine In,” after which the audience is invited to come on stage, sing, dance, and feel the love, man.
BOX INFO: National touring company two-act revival, directed by American Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Diane Paulus, appearing through April 10 at the Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston St., Boston. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m., Sunday, 2,7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $48. Call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787 or visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/boston.